Thursday, March 27, 2014

Michelle Byrom: Donna Ladd's powerful commentary on justice in Mississippi - a state whose Attorney General has defended "the controversial work" of medical examiner Steven Hayne - a state where "the public simply cannot trust our criminal-justice system to get it right. " Jackson Free Press. Breaking News: WCVB: Court will not allow her execution to proceed on Thursday; (A court-ordered confession is at issue in the case.)

COMMENTARY: "Protect the innocent: End the death penalty," by Donna Ladd, published by the Jackson Free Press on March 26, 2014: (Wikipedia informs us that "Donna K. Ladd... in Philadelphia, Mississippi) is an American investigative journalist who helped create The Jackson Free Press, an award-winning freely distributed newsweekly."

GIST: "When someone is convicted for hiring someone the prosecutor said didn't kill anyone ... well, Mississippi, we have a problem. The nightmare that is the death penalty in Mississippi is beyond a morality question. The citizens of this state have no guarantee that we are actually executing the people who did the crime. Our criminal-justice system has long been riddled with corruption (Quick: How many of you have paid to keep your kid out of jail at some point over the decades? Be honest with yourself at least), ineptness, and a lust for power that leads prosecutors and judges to do really bad things. Start here in Hinds County. My friend Cedric Willis spent 12 years in Parchman for a double murder and rape because then-District Attorney Ed Peters' office didn't present the evidence that could have cleared him. The prosecutor on the case, Bobby DeLaughter, later became a judge and presided over many criminal cases. He, more recently, went to prison due to a bribery scheme involving former employer Peters. I sure wish I had time to scrutinize every case those guys ever touched. I'm not saying I would find other problems, but how do these men's records lead to trust in our court decisions that, in turn, bolster our confidence about who is in prison and on death row and who is walking free? The point is: There is no possible way Mississippians can be certain that all people on death row are guilty. Our system is too broken, and as the Byrom case shows, there is little, if any, Mississippi officialdom lining up to make sure that the state government doesn't kill or imprison innocent people.........But what about all the others on death row in Mississippi and beyond? There aren't enough journalists to investigate every case, and often the evidence is missing or buried too deep to find. Attorneys doing the Lord's work such as those with the Innocence Project (who helped free Cedric Willis) can't get to everyone, either, although they try. And our leaders aren't exactly helping. Beyond turning their heads away from bad prosecution, the state's leaders aren't calling for enough scrutiny. The attorney general has defended the controversial work of medical examiner Steven Hayne, for instance, and the Legislature is actually giving judges more latitude and sentencing discretion, instead of being more concerned about what judges and prosecutors are up to—or hiding. Meantime, the public simply cannot trust our criminal-justice system to get it right. That has been proved over and over again. As a result, the state of Mississippi must declare a moratorium on the death penalty. It is the only moral thing to do."

The entire story can be found at:

 See WCVB story:  "Michelle Byrom won't be executed Thursday."..." The Mississippi Supreme Court has denied the state attorney general's motion to set an execution date for Michelle Byrom, according to an order filed by the court Thursday afternoon. "Having duly considered the motion and Byrom's response, the court finds that the Motion to Reset Execution Date is not well taken and should be denied," the order reads. Earlier Thursday, the court said Byrom, convicted of a murder to which her son has confessed multiple times, would not be executed Thursday, as the Mississippi Supreme Court continues to review her post-conviction motion. Byrom's motion for the court is still pending, and there is no word on when the court's decision on that particular motion will be made, court spokeswoman Beverly Pettigrew Kraft said.'

Clarion Ledger story: "Byrom argued in documents filed with the Mississippi Supreme Court that she has new evidence that her son killed her husband and that she had never hired a hitman as he told prosecutors. In the March 3 response to the State’s motion to reset the execution date, Byrom’s attorneys asked the Supreme Court on Monday to grant her motion to pursue new evidence that her son, Edward Byrom Jr., had pulled the trigger in trial court. Her attorney argues that her due process rights were violated when the trial judge and the prosecution failed to disclose the information that Edward Byrom Jr. had confessed to a state psychologist that he actually committed the murder and that there was no “murder for hire.” Byrom has also asked the court to review the trial court’s exclusion of confession letters written by Edward Byrom Jr. to Michelle Byrom, admitting his guilt. “Under the facts presented, Petitioner respectfully submits that there is reasonable probability Byrom would not have been convicted of hiring Joey Gillis to commit the murder if Junior’s credible confessions were properly disclosed,” the February court document states."

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